There’s a reason diamonds have such a sparkling reputation. These precious gemstones not only represent the finest of luxury, but they also immortalize our most cherished relationships and moments.
When picturing diamonds, most people imagine the clear gems found on engagement rings. However, a richly colored world exists beyond the popular white diamond. From deep-sea blues to opulent reds, colored diamonds are some of the rarest, most expensive gems in the world.
With their singular hues and high value, colored diamonds are a distinctive jewelry endeavor. Our guide will take you through the composition, grading, and types of colored diamonds that every jewelry shopper should know.
What Makes a Diamond a Diamond?
Green, blue, white, it’s no matter—all diamonds meet certain characteristics. Otherwise, they would not earn the diamond name.
Miles under the earth’s surface, very hot temperatures and incredible pressure transform carbon atoms into a particular crystal formation: the heralded diamond structure.1 From black to crystal-clear, every diamond has this all-carbon composition, making them the hardest substance on the planet.
With their common structure, all diamonds are judged by standards known as the Four C’s:
- Clarity – The number, size, and severity of blemishes or damages on the diamond.
- Color – The graded color of the diamond. For white diamonds, the less the better. For colored diamonds, the more saturated the better.
- Cut – How the diamond’s shape (symmetry, surfaces, proportions) reflects the light.
- Carats – A measure of mass for diamonds.
Colored Diamonds vs. Colorless Diamonds
Colored and uncolored diamonds share the same crystal foundation. However, a key chemical distinction lies between the two.
During the crystallization process, both types start as all-carbon structures. For colored varieties, though, another foreign particle or factor slightly alters the chemical makeup.3 This second element will determine the exact shade of a naturally colored diamond.
When assessing white diamonds, most jewelers downgrade for any coloration. But once diamonds reach a certain level of saturation, they earn a different category: colored diamonds. Let’s explore the different grading scales for these two diamond types.
White Diamond Grading Scale
When crystal-clear is the goal, coloration is a major flaw. The highest value white diamonds have minimal coloring—any shades of yellow or brown, and the price drops.
To standardize valuation, the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) ranks white diamonds from D to Z by coloration level.4 These alphabetical grades fall into one of five categories:
- Colorless (D, E, F) – Zero (or very little) coloration. Less than 2% of diamonds are colorless, making them incredibly rare.5
- Near Colorless (G, H, I, J) – Very slight discoloration, only detectable by a trained eye or microscope.
- Faint (K, L, M) – Light yellow-brown shades detectable to the average eye, often making it the lowest grade sold by professional dealers.
- Very Light (N, O, P, Q, R) – Noticeable earth undertones, often not sold due to low quality.
- Light (S, T, U, V, W, X, Y, Z) – Almost yellow or brown in appearance, rarely sold.
No matter your jewelry piece, always ask for a professional diamond grading. Only a trained eye can catch the subtle differences that help determine a stone’s quality.
Fancy Colored Diamond Grading
For white diamonds, the less color the better. But if the diamond’s color surpasses the lowest Z grade, it’s reborn into a new, saturated category—fancy colored diamonds.
Fancy diamonds are valued for their deep color, calling for an entirely different grading scale than white diamonds. If shopping for a colored stone, make sure jewelers have the fancy colored diamond expertise to evaluate your choices.
Fancy Colored Diamond Criteria
Like for white diamonds, the GIA has standardized the valuation of fancy colored diamonds, marking three essential criteria:
- Color grade – A diamond’s color grade is another term for overall color quality. Besides the color hue, the tone (warm vs. cool) and saturation level also determine a diamond’s color grade.
- Origin – Diamonds can be natural or synthetic in origin. Typically, synthetically-treated fancy diamonds have a lower value.
- Color distribution – Distribution concerns the evenness of color shade and saturation.
Fancy Diamond Color Grading Scale
Of all the criteria, color grade reigns supreme when valuing fancy colored diamonds. After all, the rare color is what gives such high value.
We know that color grade is divided into three factors—hue, tone, and saturation. After fully analyzing these criteria, jewelers rank the gem on the GIA fancy diamond color grading scale.7 With nine tiers, the scale goes from most to least coloring:
- Fancy Vivid
- Fancy Intense
- Fancy Deep
- Fancy Dark
- Fancy Light
- Very Light
A rule of thumb: the deeper the shade, the higher the value. Fancy intense blue diamonds outprice very light blue diamonds. However, not all colors come in every color grade. For example, there are no fancy vivid brown or yellow diamonds.
Known Colors of Fancy Diamonds
Every colored diamond possesses a rare beauty—no two gems are quite alike. While some shades are more common, each results from a specific chemical process that produces their gorgeous color.
From most rare to least rare, here are the common color families you’ll find in natural diamonds:8
- Red – Incredibly rare and expensive, a red diamond is the most prized color by far. In fact, only three red diamonds over 5 carats exist throughout the entire world.9 Structural deformations from extra high pressures produce this single-grade shade.
- Pink – While still incredibly valuable, a pink diamond is a slightly lesser version than a red diamond. They similarly result from carbon-structure deformities due to high pressures. Pink diamonds range the whole grading spectrum, from fancy vivid to faint. Regarding how much is a pink diamond worth, the amount will vary based on the shade.
- Purple – Like red and pink varieties, a purple diamond results from differences in pressure and heat during crystallization. They’re mostly found in northern countries with arctic conditions, usually in sizes smaller than 1 carat.
- Violet – More grey-blue in tone, a violet diamond stems not from structural irregularities but trapped hydrogen. Only found in Australia, these rare gems usually overlap with grey diamonds.
- Blue – Wondering what is a blue diamond, and what gives it its distinctive hue? Boron is the catalyst element behind the rare blue diamond. Depending on the boron amount and chemical position, the blue coloring can range from robin’s-egg light to deep-sea rich.
- Green – These emerald-like jewels arise from radioactive uranium mixing with carbon crystals. The longer the interaction, the richer the shade of a green diamond.
- Orange or Yellow – Nitrogen interference creates the color family of oranges and yellows. While orange diamonds are rare for their intensity, yellow diamonds are quite common and come in a range of shades. However, they are not to be confused with yellow sapphires. When it comes to a yellow sapphire vs yellow diamond, the diamond variety will always be more valuable.
- Brown – An excellent casual option, brown diamonds are growing in popularity. With shades ranging from chocolate to cognac, a brown diamond’s color comes from the same atomic realignment as red, pink, and purple diamonds.
- Grey – Like with violet diamonds, trapped hydrogen produces grey diamonds. The difference lies mostly in the weight and duration of the hydrogen’s presence. Grey diamonds often mix with other colors, such as blue or green.
- Black – Many secondary elements can create black diamonds, from graphite to hematite. Often seen as the most “impure,” their popularity stems from color preference rather than market value.
- White (Fancy) – These are not the same as non-fancy white diamonds (your typical engagement ring variety). Almost opal-like, fancy white diamonds have thousands of sub-particle “inclusions” that absorb light to create a milky, opaque shade.
When considering what color diamonds there are, remember that fancy diamonds come in more than singular shades. Dominant-secondary color labels, like greenish-yellow, are also available.
Colored Diamonds—Unique Gems of Luxury
Distinctive, opulent, and rare—a colored diamond is a gift that sparkles with a personal touch. And with such a wide variety of shades and prices, you can always find the right colored diamond for your needs. With our guide, we hope you’ll consider exploring this colorful world of luxury. If you need any help along the way, visit one of our jewelry stores in San Diego and consult one of our experts.
- Lineberry, Cate. Diamonds Unearthed. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/diamonds-unearthed-141629226/
- Gemological Institute of America. Diamond. https://www.gia.edu/diamond
- Gemological Institute of America. Diamond Color Chart: The Official GIA Color Scale. https://4cs.gia.edu/en-us/blog/diamond-color-chart-official-gia-color-scale/
- Fried, Michael. D Color Diamonds: Are They Worth the Premium Price? https://www.diamonds.pro/education/d-color-diamonds/
- Circa. Fancy Color Diamonds: Everything You Need to Know. https://www.circajewels.com/fancy-color-diamonds/
- Gemological Institute of America. Fancy Color Diamond Quality Factors. https://www.gia.edu/fancy-color-diamond-quality-factor
- Natural Color Diamond Association. Colors. https://ncdia.com/colors
- Sunburst Rare Diamonds Inc. The Guide to Fancy Colour Diamonds. https://sunburstrarediamonds.com/fancy-colour-diamonds-guide/
- Fried, Michael. Diamond Color Chart & Buying Guide: Understand Grade Scale. https://www.diamonds.pro/education/color/
- Fried, Michael. Fancy Colored Diamonds: Guide to 4 C’s, Quality, Grade, and Price. https://www.diamonds.pro/education/fancy-color/
- Gemological Institute of America. Diamond Treatments and What They Mean to You. https://4cs.gia.edu/en-us/blog/diamond-treatments-mean/